Post-seeding Management

After you have seeded your meadow, applied a thin layer of straw mulch and watered (if seeds were sown in the spring), it's time to wait for germination to begin. If you planted in the fall, your seeds will sit dormant in the soil until the ideal conditions of spring to begin germinating. If you planted in the spring, it is likely that only some species will germinate as most wildflowers need cold, moist stratification to germinate. In other words, the seeds need to experience the cool temperatures and the freeze/thaw action of winter to soften their shells and facilitate germination.

Don’t worry: your seeds will lay dormant until the time is right and in the meantime, the grasses and the annual rye nurse crop will keep the soil in place and help keep weed seeds from germinating. Once germination has occurred and things start to "green up", you will need to faithfully follow a two year management schedule to ensure weeds are kept at bay and your wildflowers and perennial grasses have the best chance for survival.

First Year

Year 1 - a mowed meadow

Spring and Summer Management
This may sound crazy, but mowing your meadow in the first year is the most important step after seeding. In their first year of life wildflowers and native grasses put more energy into root development than top growth, this is actually a good thing as your meadow slowly takes control of the land. And, being perennials, they do not produce flowers in their first year at all.

The fact is that even with as much work as you have done to carefully prepare your land for your wildflower seeding, it is impossible to get rid of every weed seed! However, most weeds are quick growing annuals and they can be controlled by keeping the site regularly mowed to a height of approximately 6 inches (15cm) in this first year of growth. This mowing prevents these weeds from making seeds so they can't return in the future and mowing allows the sun's light to reach down to the seedlings; providing them with energy. You won't harm your wildflowers by this mowing; in fact, you'll be encouraging them to develop strong root systems as the seedlings send energy to the roots rather than to the stems and leaves.

Another reason for this mowing is that the nurse crop of annual rye grass that we include with our seed mixes is also an annual and thus it too will try to make seeds. The purpose of this nurse crop of annual rye grass is to help hold soil moisture as well as to provide a bit of shade to the seedlings during the hottest times of summer. The nurse crop grows rapidly without competing with the wildflowers and grasses and occupies the "ecological niche" that would otherwise be taken by annual weeds, thus reducing weed growth. The annual rye is not needed in the second year of your meadow and you should not let it go to seed.

For large meadows a tractor drawn flail-type mower works best, as it chops up the weeds so they can dry out rapidly. Rotary mowers and sickle bar mowers are not recommended as they do not chop up the weeds and this can smother your seedlings. For smaller meadows of an acre or less, string trimmers or "Weed-Eaters" are excellent for cutting back weeds. These devices gently lay the cut material down on top of the cut stems where it will dry out rapidly and not smother your seedlings.

Whenever weeds or any vegetation is taller than 8 inches (20cm), it's time to mow your meadow. On average, you will be mowing your meadow once a month until the fall but keep in mind that greater than average rainfalls will encourage rapid weed growth and you may need to mow more often.

Tip: Avoid mowing or walking over your meadow area when the soil is wet. Wet soil is more easily compacted, reducing air pockets (water pockets when it rains), making it difficult for young roots to push through. You also have the potential to create ruts where water will pool and not drain properly if you drive in your meadow.

Fall Management
If you experience cold, snowy winter conditions, at the end of the first season, do not mow down the year's growth. Leave it to help protect the young plants over the winter. The plant litter and the snow that it catches insulates the soil from rapid changes in soil temperatures, which can cause plant losses due to frost heaving.

If your winters are relatively warm (i.e. you don’t get snow), you may stop mowing once the threat of weeds going to seed has ended.

Pulling Weeds
Avoid the temptation! Pulling weeds in the first year is not recommended. Wildflower seedlings remain very small during the first year and their roots have not yet developed enough to avoid being pulled out with neighbouring weeds.

If you really must must pull a weed, do so carefully. If the weed is small, place a finger on either side of the stem to hold the surrounding soil in place. Pull straight up and shake off excess soil into the hole. If the weed is large, place a foot on either side of the weed and pull straight up. Shake off excess soil and tamp down disturbed soil. If the soil is dry, applying some water to the area will help any disturbed seedlings regain their hold in the soil and encourage downward root growth.

Remember that removing plants (whether weeds or not) from an area creates a disturbance and an open area for new weeds to move in. To avoid this, simply cut the weed flush with the soil with pruning shears and dispose of the leafy material elsewhere. Always properly dispose of seed-bearing weeds immediately after cutting.

Second Year

Year 2 - the meadow is starting to show itself

Spring Management
As soon as you can get on the field, your meadow should be mowed right to the ground and the cuttings raked off if possible. Mowing creates air circulation and exposes dormant seeds to heat and sunlight needed for germination. Young seedlings will grow strong roots and begin to take hold of their soil environment.

Summer Management
In the summer of the second year of growth you'll start to see some flowers blooming. These early bloomers tend to be Black-eyed Susans and Lance-leafed Coreopsis, however it's not unusual to spot echinaceas with single blooms soaring atop their foliage. This is just a taste of things to come!
If weeds remain a problem in the second year, you may have to mow in late spring or early summer. Biennial weeds such as mullein can be very competitive during this stage of your meadow and mowing them back to about one foot when they are in full bloom (before they go to seed) can kill them or set them back significantly with minimal damage to your meadow plants.

White Sweet Clover

Yellow Sweet Clover

A biennial weed of particular concern is Sweet Clover (Melilotus spp.) pictured above. If you notice it in the second year of your meadow growth, act on it now as it can become a serious long-term problem if left alone. Mowing your meadow in mid-summer when it is in full bloom will usually kill sweet clover plants and it will definitely keep them from producing more seeds. Keep an eye out for sweet clover in the third year too. If it does return, it will likely be in such small quantities that it can be pulled by hand.

Fall Management
In the fall of your meadow’s second year, it is likely that you will not have to do anything. Growth should be left in place to protect smaller plants from winter frosts and snowfalls. Your meadow may also be home to birds, small mammals, and other wildlife so disturbing it now would mean disturbing their new home.

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